What do you want from your local news blog?

Brent Finnegan -- February 29th, 2008

We may be making some improvements to this blog soon, but we want input and feedback from readers.

This is your chance to help improve hburgnews.com. Fill out the poll below and post your suggestions in the comments.

Check off as many as you’d like:

What sort of improvements would you like to see at hburgnews.com?
None. Keep it exactly the way it is.
More editorials and opinion pieces
Less opinion. Just stick to the facts.
More breaking news
More in-depth original reporting
More YouTube videos and Flickr photo features
More political coverage
Less political coverage
More reviews (restaurants, arts, etc)
A gossip collumn
A local sports column
More state news coverage
No state news: keep it as local as possible.
Coverage of City Council meetings
Coverage of county Board of Supervisors meetings
A Google map
More features (non-news stories)
Free polls from Pollhost.com

Also, if you were running this blog, how would you fund these changes? Advertisements? A PayPal account for reader donations?

31 Responses to “What do you want from your local news blog?”

  1. Ex'burger says:

    Given the list of options I’d say the site is doing pretty well as it is. The only thing I’d ask for is more posts. If it takes more posters then so be it. This blog is the “go to” blog for alternative media in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. I think a reasonable goal would be several posts a day.

  2. cook says:

    hburgnews is Harrisonburg’s town square – it has become what those who don’t seem to have much work and spend the day sitting on these benches want it to be.

    The one change I would like to make is to provide the opportunity to shove certain people off of the bench and out of the square. Of course, I want to be the one to make that determination, so absent a vote to make cook the king of the square . . .

    Any attempt to formalize or institutionalize this site will change it – probably for the worse – but I do appreciate the fact that some (Brent and finnegan) have been carrying the load for quite a while.

    All this to explain my vote for “None. Keep it exactly the way it is.”

  3. Emmy says:

    You’re right cook Brent (and Finnegan – you do know he’s the same person right?) carry the majority of the load here. I’d love to post more, but I’m not as in tune as most of the other contributors.

    About all the news I can give you today is that my oldest read more books than any other first grader in Waterman’s reading challenge, which is featured in today’s paper.

    And yes, that was a totally shameless and opportunistic brag on my part!

  4. An attorney wanting to be King…I’ll settle for the Court Jester.

    Keep things simple guys, I think it works well. At least most times it is better than Candid Bickering…uuhhh Comment.

  5. Tom says:

    There are several methods of funding your project.

    1. Google Adsense is very easy to add to your site and is a monthly pay per click. http://www.google.com/adsense

    2. paypal donate button is always a good idea.

    3. linkshare.com & CJ.com (affiliate programs) could be another option but my experience it doesn’t pay well (could be used as a supplemental though.)

    4. Last and most difficult would be incorporating ad serving software and sell advertising on your site based on monthly flat fee or CPM. There is an open source project you could use http://www.openx.org/ but you need php and mySQL to run it. You could do this without the software though, some small sites go that route – just be honest in your page views and come up with reasonable pricing.

    Good luck guys.

  6. Anon says:

    I’m usually against ads on these kind of blogs (they tend to junk up the interface and are distracting), but I realize that funding is required in order to see more posts here.

    I wouldn’t mind seeing ads for local businesses – surely they’d be willing to pay for ad space to this super-targeted audience. Maybe coupons to locally-owned restaurants, for instance?

  7. Tim says:

    Brent, I know you expressed in the past that you don’t want any ads on you’re site because money isn’t the focus. However, it does seem like the site is popular enough that it could bring in some money from out of town very easily. The money wouldn’t have to be used for any personal gain, I would be very proud if I knew my local blog had generated X amount of dollars for the Harrisonburg Food Bank (for instance).

  8. Tom says:

    Another thing you could do to create a robust site without spending anything more than time is to develop using open source. If you have php and mySQL, take a look at Drupal.org

  9. Lowell Fulk says:

    I’d like to see a new feature called “Cook’s Considered Contemplations and Conclusions”

  10. finnegan says:

    Thanks for the compliments and suggestions. Keep them coming. I will take all this into consideration.

    I agree with Ex-burger. I would also like to see more posts. But on a site like this, where there’s no money, that would require more people contributing news stories when they can. For example, that might mean having a few readers going to a City Council meeting once a month or so, and reporting on it.

    If you feel you have something to contribute, or may have something to contribute in the future, email me at hburgnews [at] gmail.com

    One idea I have to incorporate readers for more up-to-date eyewitness reports is to do an experiment using something like Twitter.com which would entail getting a group of readers and contributors that all have a Twitter account (they’re free) specifically for reporting local news. Readers could post pithy news items from their computers or send text messages from cell phones that would appear in the sidebar of the main page. Stuff like “it’s snowing!” or “A house on X Street is on fire” or “There’s a wreck on the corner of X and Y street. Glass everywhere.”

    You know, citizen journalism.

  11. Emmy says:

    Kind of like I tried to do when they traffic signal fell down! I’d like to do that.

  12. David Miller says:

    I really do like that idea, it gives posting ability (small scale) to the masses. Also, Kudos to the video with Eddie. I really am trying to get a video phone for that reason!

  13. finnegan says:

    If you were wondering what camera I use for these YouTube videos, it’s a Canon ELPH. It’s about the size of a small Blackberry phone. I like it because it shoots stills (for Flickr) and small video (for YouTube) and fits easily in my pocket.

    When I don’t have access to Apple’s iMovie, I do a quick and dirty edit using the default Windows Movie Maker, which results in lesser quality, but it’s fine for those small YouTube embeds.

    I encourage anyone with a camera like that to experiment with it. As long as you’re just conveying basic info, and not trying to create a masterpiece, it’s remarkably easy.

  14. Thanh says:

    Great discussion finnegan and everyone. I’d like to see no adds, but more people posting on this blog. Not sure if that’ll work since some of you have expressed that people might post more if they got paid even a little. However, I am concerned slightly (and maybe unwarranted) that those wanting to get paid for something like this might post for the sake of posting, and not posting for the sake of educating each other and encouraging discussion. And paying also opens potentially a can of worms when you have to determine how much a person might get paid for each story, and will each story get the same payment regardless of content and how much a person spend digging for details, i.e. a twitter post about a traffic light falling down versus finnegan’s detailed investigation on the downtown streetscape.

    Right now, only 9 people are listed on the “contacts & blog info” page as regular contributors. I’d like to encourage anyone who is interested in posting, even if only occassionally, to contact finnegan at hburgnews [at] gmail [dot] com.

    I would like to see hburgnews grow, and I think that can only happen if more people were “regular” contributors. finnegan is the primarly poster here on hburgnews, and I think that in order for hburgnews to remain sustainable we need a greater number of people writting posts, especially on the chance that finnegan moves away (I have no knowledge of any such plans, but just hypothetically).

    finnegan, I’d be interested to learn how people take the next step – from just sending you stories via email and asking you to post, to actually getting the appropriate sign in account to post a story themselves. (I do see some concern with just giving anyone the right to post without seeing what kinds of post they’re interested/capbable of posting first, there may be someone out there who might take advantage of that and without intial checks might post something offensive or slanderous.)

  15. Thanh says:

    Also, although I’m not in support of advertisements on hburgnews, I think that a paypal donation thing is a good idea.

    One of the things I enjoy the most about hburgnews also is that it focuses on local stories. Only occassionally do “State” issues/ events get posted here, but the poster generally ties them back into local issues.

  16. This site is wonderful as is, but it’s great that you are looking for ways to improve and enhance. I’d rather read a few good posts a day than wade through several that are ho-hum. “Good” and “ho-hum” are of course subjective terms.

    As you decide what — if anything — to change, remember that some things may not be worth the headache. And headache can lead to burnout. If you have someone at least helping with (if not outright taking over) ad sales and potential-new-poster- vetting, cool. If not, proceed with caution.

    Thanks for a great blog!

  17. Thanh says:

    I agree with Deona Landes Houff: “I’d rather read a few good posts a day than wade through several that are ho-hum.”

    In case I am misunderstood, I’d like to clarify what I meant by “I’d like to see hburgnews grow.” I mean for more posts to be by people other than finnegan; or for there to even be an equal number posts to every one of finnegan’s posts. I don’t necessarily mean that I wish to see 100+ posts a day on hburgnews. And I am concerned that “twitter” type posts might litter hburgnews. If something is important, or notable, I like to come home and find a decent amount of time to write a post that it deserves. But of course, this is just my opinion… I’m still interested to hear more ideas.

  18. finnegan says:

    The Twitter posts would be in their own little section in a sidebar — kind of like the recent comments. The main purpose of using Twitter would be to give people the opportunity to alert people to things happening around the area, even if they’re not at their computer — they could send text messages.

    Regarding blog ads, there’s a good discussion at cvillnews.com today about their ads.

  19. kai degner says:

    hburgnews is important for those who visit regularly, but also for the many people who hear things secondhand from hburgnews readers. I think the discussion about advertisements comes from those wanting hburgnews to sustain itself, and realizing that supporting finnegan in his work is an important step. For me, that’s most important.

    If I could voluntarily “subscribe” to hburgnews, I would – and I bet others would, too. The blog could still be completely open to webbrowsers, but a community of readers and contributors could pitch in, say, $5/month. A publically-known percentage of this could go to finnegan for keeping all of this running – the rest allocated quarterly to a nonprofit voted on by hburgnews readers (or something like that). No ads, just a little “support hburgnews” link with a PayPal subscription thing.

    finnegan, maybe you’re not into getting paid for this, but, speaking for myself, you and hburgnews contribute something rather valuable, and I’d be happy to help you pay your rent while you’re working to keep me informed of things I may not otherwise learn.

    Otherwise, I’d like to see a calendar function where readers can submit their own events – from discussions to parties.

  20. Emmy says:

    A calendar is a great idea. I often miss events I’d like to attend because I don’t hear about them in time. I’d also happily pay $5 a month for Brent’s hard work and for charity.

  21. Zach says:

    Well. A donation drive is always a good idea, sometimes they even work. Throw in bonus things like, user avatars or titles maybe. Or an email address at hburgnews.com for a certain donation amount. You can try google adsense but unless you do it tastefully I wouldn’t advise it.

    “No anonymous, libelous, or name-calling comments.”

    That is totally not in keeping with the spirit of the Internet btw.

  22. Ex'burger says:

    After reading these comments I’d like to add that I think a Paypal button is a “must have.” Contributions should be entirely voluntary and it wouldn’t be untoward to have fund drives for the blog on quarterly basis or twice a year. And by fund drive I mean just posting each day for a week that you’re asking for donations.

    I think the idea of paid contributors is not a good one for this type of blog. Other than Brent, if a contributor wants to be paid (per post) then personally, I think they’re missing the spirit of community blogging. I frequent a lot of blogs each day and I find that the most successful ones are lead by a strong writer who is in it for the right reasons and most contributors feel it’s an honor to take part. The blogs are sustained by donations and, sometimes, unobtrusive ads.

  23. I think giving donations is a great idea. Setting up a Paypal option is OK, but when you give a donation, understand that Brent will not get all the donation. He has to pay fees and he may even have to have a business license? Just my opinion, I think he should post an address and let people send a check. A lot less hassle for Brent.

  24. Josh says:

    Paypal can be used for donations but Christa is right; hburgnews will have to pay 2.9% + $0.30 in fees. (e.g. $19.12 earned on a $20 donation) I’m thinking walking to the bank and cashing a handful of checks is actually more work than paypal direct deposits.

    Maybe hburgnews should consider setting up a non-profit and a bank account? I think Brent is awesome but not everyone will feel comfortable forking over checks.

  25. People that know Brent will have no problem with writing a check. He could easily set up another bank account at his own bank that hopefully has free checking. I’m sure he could deposit checks when he does his own banking. I would certainly rather go that route than see him lose 2.9 % and more. If I didn’t have to accept credt cards at my business, I wouldn’t, but it’s necessary with the type of business I have. It hurts when I lose 2.9 % on a $1000 sale.

  26. Gxeremio says:

    I’d just like to put in a word here for monetizing the site through ads. If you used Google’s AdWords then advertisers would still have no way of influencing the content of the site since ads are selected based on the site’s content. With the high number of pageviews, and if readers clicked on a few ads every month, it would bring in enough revenue to cover costs and hopefully provide a stipend for Brent as well without a lot of hassle. Local ads are also fine by me if businesses wanted to sponsor them (maybe we could put up a link for how that could happen), but that would be more work and also have a greater chance of influencing the content of the site (i.e. if a restaurant bought an ad, would we feel comfortable running a negative story or review of that restaurant?).

  27. cook says:

    finnegan, can you explain the feild [sic] reports? can we all make submissions? make your answer pretty basic – pretend like some of us don’t have a clue about the internet and feeds and such. thanks.

  28. finnegan says:

    Never could spell that word.

    I’m experimenting with it. As soon as I can get it to work properly, I’ll post something, and invite readers to join.

    Just ignore it for right now.

  29. Thanh says:

    There was a discussion about blogads on cvillenews recently: http://www.cvillenews.com/2008/02/28/blogads-revisited/#comments

    Just another idea to consider. Maybe use the ads to cover costs and then donate to charity? However, the real interest to me in that discussion is that so many people that they find the ads unobtrusive the way cvillenews has them set up.

  30. finnegan says:

    I referenced that post in an earlier comment (March 1, 2008, 6:59 pm).

    I may contact Waldo to see exactly how he has it set up.

    The primary purpose behind getting money would be to pay a professional web designer for an upgrade. This blog is hosted on a borrowed host space, and is held together with the code equivalent of duct tape. hburgblogs has never worked properly, either.

    As far as getting money to pay myself, I’m not sure that’s a good idea. I don’t really want to set up a legit business and go after it that way. What if I take the money, but it’s not enough to pay the bills, and I have to bail on it? Also, I have other plans for my future. Being a local news blogger is fun, but it’s not what I want to do in terms of a career.

    I’m confident that the hobby/volunteer “citizen journalism” aspect of the blog can work. While I know that some people are too busy to contribute (and some people can’t because of their job, or some other conflict of interest), and some people are simply bad writers, or lack the good judgement to put a solid story together; ultimately you don’t have to be a professional reporter to gather information and report it to the community.

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